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Did Democrats Know, But Do Nothing, About Spying?

Continuing reports about the order by George W. Bush to have the National Security Agency read emails and listen to phone calls from American citizens who were never accused of any crime – and to do so without any search warrant or judicial review – are now indicating that some top congressional Democrats may have been complicit in the program.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, now admits that she was briefed by Dick Cheney about the plan to use the National Security Agency to spy against American citizens within the borders of the United States. Representative Pelosi was the chair of the House intelligence committee at the time.

Former Senator Bob Graham, who previously claimed that he was never briefed by the NSA spying plans, now acknowledges that he did attend a briefing on the domestic espionage program.

What’s their excuse? Graham says that he left the briefing with the impression that there had been “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States” and “with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy.” Essentially, Graham still claims that the briefing did not reveal that the National Security Agency would be using telephone and email connections to spy against Americans.

Pelosi, for her part, says that the briefing she received was merely about “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” Pelosi said that, at the briefing, she “expressed my strong concerns.”

Pardon me, but I smell bullshit.

Bob Graham’s shifting descriptions of his briefing on the program are beginning to look more like an excuse than an accurate account of what happened. Also, I wonder why, if Nancy Pelosi’s briefing didn’t include any specifics about the NSA’s new activities, she expressed her strong concerns? Strong concerns about what?

Now, I haven’t been briefed or anything, but the impression that I get is that the leaders of the Democratic Party were informed of George W. Bush’s plans to put himself above the law and seize the power to spy against any American citizen at the time and place of his choosing. Then, they walked away and did nothing.

Sorry, Representative Pelosi, but expressing “strong concerns” in a private meeting is not enough. I expect any member of Congress, when told of a plan of the President of the United States to violate the law, trash the United States Constitution, and play havoc with the rights of American citizens, to stand up and let the American people know what is going on. If the President then hauls that member of Congress off to prison, so be it. We don’t elect members of Congress, Republican or Democrat, to sit on their hands while the President grabs the powers of a dictator.

Accounts of the top Democrats’ involvement in briefings about the National Security Agency’s program to spy against Americans is just another indication of what I’ve suspected for a long time – that when the Democratic Party was given the chance to stand up to George W. Bush and his plans to undermine American freedom, it lost its spine.

I don’t give a damn if it’s a Democratic politician or a Republican politician who attacks my liberty. Anyone involved in this crime against the Constitution should resign or be forced out of office.

9 thoughts on “Did Democrats Know, But Do Nothing, About Spying?”

  1. Jim says:

    Peregrin writes:

    I expect any member of Congress, when told of a plan of the President of the United States to violate the law, trash the United States Constitution, and play havoc with the rights of American citizens, to stand up and let the American people know what is going on. If the President then hauls that member of Congress off to prison, so be it.

    Well, I don’t know if I can reasonably expect a career politician to do something that will get themselves sent to jail for the rest of their lives for the defense of the Constitution. But there are things Pelosi could have done that she didn’t do. She could have filed suit. She could have demanded some other form of judicial review. She could have at least written a frickin’ strongly worded memo on the subject or something. Had she done any of the above I would be able to give her some props. But no, she didn’t do anything. Didn’t do anything.

  2. J. Clifford says:

    Well, Jim, I agree with Peregrin. Members of Congress, as well as the President of the United States, take a solemn oath to defend the Constitution.

    Being given the power to shape the government as a representative of the people carries weighty responsibilities. Among those is the responsibility to subordinate personal ambitions to the good of the nation. If Nancy Pelosi wasn’t willing to do that, and to risk prosecution from the Bush Administration that wanted to keep its crimes secret, then she should have resigned from office. The office of Representative in Congress, and especially the office of Chair of the House intelligence committee, includes the duty to do whatever is humanly possible to see that the Constitution is protected from despots like Bush. Pelosi failed in her duty. She is not fit for the office that she holds, and is a poor example for other Democrats to follow.

  3. Jim says:

    J. Clifford,

    You seem to have a black-white take on this, as does Peregrin. Saying that Pelosi is not fit for office because she didn’t go to jail for a life term (or possibly be executed for treason) for outing the program is nice and tidy, as if we expect each of our leaders to be paragons of perfection. But come on, who really expects a political leader to be a paragon (I keep wanting to write “polygon”) of perfection? They’re politicians. How about yourself? I mean, we all make mistakes, we all are morally culpable for something. I sometimes buy business clothes that are made in a sweatshop, although I’d rather not. Does that make me unfit to talk about the ethics of clothing production? I don’t think so — we all keep trying, and the important thing is to enter an enterprise honestly, straightforwardly and with good faith. Failures occasionally happen, and don’t by themselves merit the harshest penalties unless it’s clear they happened in a dishonest, malicious, crooked manner.

    My point was that perhaps I can’t expect that level of perfection you and Peregrin wish for, since I’m hardly that perfect myself, but I should expect Pelosi to have done something besides say “hey” as Bush charged past.

  4. Ralph says:

    Today, Torture Memo Gonzales came out and said that the domestic spying, without court oversight, was legal: Bush was given the power to spy on the American people in the wake of 9/11, when Congress gave him the power to do anything, anywhere, any time. Only Barbara Lee of California dissented.

    In my opinion, the most important thing to do is pressure Congress to take those powers back away from Bush. Oddly, nobody’s discussing this. Why do you think that is?

  5. J. Clifford says:


    I haven’t sworn any oaths, and I don’t hold high public office. I don’t have the kind of power that Nancy Pelosi has.

    So yes, I expect Nancy Pelosi to be held to a high standard than myself. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, given the privilege she has of being a high official in our nation’s legislature. As an opposition politician, she has a special responsibility, and I reiterate that if she was unwilling to hold to the oath she took when as a part of the deal of her public office, she ought to resign that office.

  6. J. Clifford says:

    Ralph – Glad to see they’re discussing it over at Imprison Bush.

  7. Tom says:

    Every day it just gets worse, doesn’t it? While we’re not looking or not being informed Bush has become a dictator! Who’s going to do anything about it now? Watch and see.

  8. GopherGrace says:

    If the only reason one has for acting responsibly is that they took an oath and were given power, then
    they probably didn’t deserve the power they were given. i.e. … if one can’t be trusted in the little
    things, why should I trust you with bigger things.

    Of course, Nancy nor anyone else doesn’t have to resign. We can vote them out at the next opportunity if we don’t
    like their actions. That’s the ultimate power they we collectively have.

    There are also lots of people who gave their human life to defense of the Constitution, WWII vets among them. Most of them
    weren’t given much authority or privilege.

  9. Ralph says:

    I’ve got to go with Gopher on this one. Why are we asking more of our troops than we do of our Congress?

    If our troops encounter a threat to America, we expect them to lay down their lives if necessary.

    But if dear old Nancy Pelosi comes up against a threat to America, well, I guess it’s just too much to ask for her to do more than “express her concerns” in private.

    Well, Nancy, we pay you more than we pay soldiers, we give you more power, and we expect you to fight for us all the harder for it. So guess what? In times of crisis, your butt is on the line too.

    If we expect a soldier to step up to a firefight at the risk of his or her own life, the least we can expect from you is that you will stand up and blow the whistle on the Bush administration’s secret crimes at the risk of going to jail. If you’re not going to stand up and fight, stand down and let someone else do it for you–you’re not the one for the job.

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